Happy New Year, and welcome to our first blog of 2021.
Digging back into my Latin studies at school, I remember being taught that January is named after Janus – the Roman god of doors, choices, beginnings and endings. He is usually depicted with two faces, one on each side of his head, one facing forwards the other backwards. I’m sure I am not alone in hoping that 2021 will be full of lots of open doors (of friends and family), of choices and beginnings (too many to list) and of endings (of the pandemic, current public health crisis and restrictions).
For now, however, we are living in a disconcerting mix of the status quo and volatile change and once again under strict restrictions. Somewhat ironically this blog focuses on travel since I have been captivated by the recent BBC series of Michael Palin’s Travels of a Lifetime.
I have long been an admirer of Michael Palin, with his easy-going charm and intelligence, but above all his warmth and genuine interest in his fellow human beings. He has an amazing knack of being able to communicate with people from all walks of life, and literally from all corners of the globe.
Now in his mid-70s, he has not lost his boyish enthusiasm for travelling, nor indeed for life, and it was particularly enlightening having the privilege of watching him as he viewed and reflected on his own travels. His delight and memories of sometimes small and insignificant moments were made more profound by consulting the countless diaries he kept of every trip.
He spoke a great deal about the practicalities and technicalities of his travels, the majority of which required in-depth planning and preparation. But there was also a wonderfully carefree element, and his calm acceptance that things would definitely not go to plan and he would often just have to “wing it”. The skill of the filming involved made you feel like a travelling companion, and it is easy to forget that he had a team behind him, not to mention the vast resources of the BBC.
He did allude to risk management, and some elements of his travels verged on the reckless, but his attitude was that he would just make the most of it and hope for the best.
In 2004 he undertook a 6 month trip around the Himalaya mountain range area, where he found himself physically challenged due to the altitude. He admitted that this was the one trip which he thought would beat him, but with much determination he pushed himself on and the programme introduced us to many interesting people from different continents and cultures.
From the safety of my sofa, I had a wry smile at Michael beginning to suffer from altitude sickness at 2500m. Whilst hardly a Himalayan trek, I briefly experienced altitude sickness a few years ago when I attended a conference in Colorado Springs. At just under 2000m the symptoms were distinctly uncomfortable, and at times I felt as if my head was in a vice.
Throughout my career I was lucky enough to travel widely – albeit by conventional means and usually to meet with social enterprises and non-profit organisations – but I still got to witness and experience daily life in towns and cities across the globe, from Cape Town to San Francisco, to Auckland to Vancouver, to Dubai to Sydney to Stockholm to Rome. These experiences made a huge impact on my personal growth and will stay with me for a lifetime. At the professional level, the learning and knowledge exchange which took place strengthened and improved our work in Scotland.
With the current Covid restrictions, there is a strange sense of being suspended in time, and perhaps being in this unnatural state heightened the enjoyment of Michael Palin’s exuberance and love of travel.
The programmes contained countless examples of human contact and connection, not to mention heaving crowds of unimaginable proportions, but these scenes were layered with poignant overtones and seemed counter-intuitive given our current social distancing requirements.
However, to echo Michael Palin’s sentiments, if we hope for the best, we may find that things will turn out OK.
Below is one of my favourite quotes, which I read on the cover of a guidebook in Niagara.
"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page."
Stay safe. Take care